HomeAnalysisMugabe’s Bismarck act: Juggling balls in the air

Mugabe’s Bismarck act: Juggling balls in the air

“Mugabe’s strategy revolves around divide-and-rule, weakening rivals, strengthening allies, isolating enemies, limited reforms for survival and unification dynamics.”

THE current situation in Zanu PF is fragmented and fractious; it needs a unifier. There is serious factionalism, infighting and political hostilities. It’s a dog-eat-dog affair.

So President Robert Mugabe is making the most out of it to emerge the unifier, like Otto Von Bismarck during 19th century divisions and wrangling in Germany, using Prussia as his springboard for the unification process to consolidate his position.

Of course, the situations are worlds apart, but there are parallels around divide-and-rule, weakening rivals, strengthening allies, limited reforms for survival, isolating enemies and unification dynamics. Mugabe is juggling several balls in the air (perhaps not five as Bismarck would do, with at least two balls always in the air) in a bid to survive, even though his days are numbered due to old age, ill-health and frailty.


During the early 19th century, Prussia was the only German state that could match the power and influence of the Austrian Empire. They were comparable in terms of size, population and wealth.

Austria opposed the idea of German unification as it saw this as a threat to its own empire. Although they were a minority, there was a significant percentage of German-speakers in the empire. If they broke away to join a unified Germany, Austria would be smaller and weaker. To this end, Prussia and Austria were rivals.

Austria had lost key allies and was losing influence in Europe. It had refused to help Russia in its war against France and Britain (the Crimean War, 1854-56) and lost a major ally as a result; and it was defeated in a war against the French and northern Italian states. As a result, it had been forced to surrender some territories. Prussia had become the most industrialised state in Germany. It was now a force to be reckoned with in Europe.

Prussia was producing more key resources such as coal and iron than Austria and it had surged ahead of its rival in building road and rail networks to help promote trade; and it had successfully set up an economic alliance (Zollverein) with other German states that made trade between states easier and more profitable.

The grand plan

The man who did most to unite the German states was Bismarck. He was the Prussian chancellor and his main goal was to strengthen even further the position of Prussia in Europe. His primary objectives were to:

  • Unify the north German states under Prussian control;
  • Weaken Prussia’s main rival, Austria, by removing it from the Bund;
  • Make Berlin the centre of German affairs — not Vienna; and
  • Strengthen the position of the King of Prussia, William I, to counter the demands for reform from the Liberals in the Prussian parliament (the Reichstag).

It is important to note that there is much debate about Bismarck’s aims to unify all German states under Prussian rule. But for the purposes of this story, that is not important. What is the moral of the story?

Gushungo plot

Mugabe’s plan currently in Zanu PF is to unify the party. However, to do that he has to think and act like Bismarck.
So his strategy revolves around divide-and-rule, weakening rivals, strengthening allies, isolating enemies, limited reforms for survival and unification dynamics. Mugabe will always make sure leaders of the main factions do not work together; in fact, top leaders of the party must always be divided to prevent them from ganging up against him, that’s divide-and-rule.
Mugabe will also awlays weaken his main rivals, ambitious hopefuls like Vice-President Emmerson and before him Joice Mujuru, Solomon Mujuru, Edison Zvobgo, Edgar Tekere, Enos Nkala and many other powerful power brokers in the party. Zapu luminaries like Joshua Nkomo, Joseph Msika, Naison Ndlovu, Welshman Mabena, Thenjiwe Lesabe, John Nkomo and Dumiso Dabengwa, among others, were also kept divided and squabbling in the post-1987 Zanu PF one way or another.

Mugabe’s rivals are always subjected to pressure to weaken and isolate them, strengthening his allies. Unification of the party has always been his agenda and done at all costs, including isolation, expulsions and even eliminations (many believe Solomon Mujuru was eliminated for political and succession reasons).

During the Zanu PF youth interface rally held at Chipadze Stadium in Bindura last weekend, Mugabe blasted both Zanu PF factions — Team Lacoste, led by Mnangagwa and the G40, fronted by First Lady Grace Mugabe, and other Zanu PF stalwarts.

Although his agenda was to strengthen G40, he appeared to attack Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kasukuwere a bit, but that was not the issue or target. The issue was politically decapitating Mnangagwa, while propping up Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, who is supported by Grace and her allies. That is the only game in town these days. So Bismarch’s strategy and tactics had to be applied to serve the broader agenda: To eventually remove Mnangagwa and put Sekeramayi as the successor at the end of the day.

Tribal card

Zanu PF’s transition is in the spotlight. The main concern is no longer Mugabe’s stranglehold on power as such, but the hijacking of the process by tribal politics in the party.

Whereas the traditional tribal contestation for power, control and influence in politics and other facets of life in Zimbabwe has historically mainly been between the Shona and Ndebele ethnic groups (both being largely social constructions, rather unadulterated tribal nations) since the arrival of Mzilikazi Khumalo in the high plateau between the Zambezi and the Limpopo rivers in 1838 from present day Zululand in South Africa at the height of the Mfecane wars triggered by Shaka Zulu’s expansionist policy and militarism, the dynamics have now shifted.

There are now intra-Shona ethnic rivalries at play like there were in Zanu during the liberation struggle. In Zapu, there were also ethnic tensions and rivalries, in fact the whole liberation movement was afflicted by the disease.

Tribalism reared its ugly head when Zanu was formed as a splinter from Zapu in 1963, mainly along tribal lines. By 1980, Zanu had consolidated itself largely as a Shona party, while Zapu was mainly Ndebele. This was the reality. Muckraker is not a fan of whitewashing reality and sugar-coating the truth.

That is why Mugabe told Nkomo in 1980 to campaign “in your own country”, meaning Matabeleland, and let us campaign in “our own country”, Mashonalanad and other Shona-speaking provinces.

This is how Mugabe comes to power, over and above other factors. That is also how he constructed the state and its institutions afterwards, naturally using his Zezuru base as the springboard, hence the state reflects that template and associated politics.

Now to stop Mnangagwa, Mugabe and other Zezuru political, military and business elites are using the tribal card. They accuse Mnangagwa of organising a Karanga-based faction from Midlands and Masvingo to wrestle power from Zezurus. That narrative — dramatised by the song “Zezurus unconquerable” — is now pronounced publicly at rallies. There is no more hiding.

Zezurus are fighting in Mugabe’s corner and Karangas in Mnangagwa’s trench; Ndebeles are split between the two warring factions.

But such things are primitive and must not be accepted in a reasonably modern, free and democratic society. People should be ashamed of engaging state affairs along tribal lines in this day and age. Such stark tribal primitivism must be rejected.

Tribalism and ethnocentrism partly got us here in the first place, so they can’t be the solution. The solution is democratic and progressive reform and change, not hidebound and narrow-minded ethnic designs and state architecture.

Between a rock and hard place

On a lighter note, War Veterans minister Tshinga “Embassy” Dube appeared uninterested, unmoved and unwilling to please his master when he queried if he would resist what President Robert Mugabe orders.

In denouncing the now booted out war veterans leader, Chris Mutsvangwa and other four comrades, for whatever crime they committed against the First Family, Dube seemed unenthusiastic and mild in his address to supporters in Bindura.

Was he being forced to say what the Zanu PF youth League leader Kudzanayi Chipanga and his fellows wanted to hear? Was he supposed to behave like Sekeremayi who appeared to be regurgitating a script written for him by Grace?

Dube, who couldn’t openly oppose the move to oust war veterans leaders, did so through his diplomatic gestures. He was also ambiguous in all he said. This could spell the reason why Mugabe’s running dogs in Zanu PF want him out. Resisting the notion that the “Dear Leader is Great; Grace is Amazing”; is tantamount to treason in Zanu PF.

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